Sunday, February 8, 2015

God (or Hollywood screenwriters) save Tyrone Power!

Another movie I watched this morning on FXM Retro and which gets another airing in the very near future is Captain From Castile. The repeat airing is on tomorrow morning at 7:25 AM.

The movie starts off with a bunch of men on horses with dogs out on a hunt, which if you were in England you might assume was a fox hunt. But this is Spain in 1518, and they're actually hunting a human, a slave from one of Spain's colonies in the New World who has escaped. Meeting up with that party is Pedro de Vargas (Tyrone Power). He suspects the fugitive has gone north while everybody else expects him to head for the nearest coast to the south, so Pedro goes off on his own to take part in the search. It's then that he meets Catana (Jean Peters). Catana is a servant girl out to do the laundry for the local inn, and because Catana and Pedro are of very different upbringing, Pedro doesn't believe Catana until he searches her bundle. Pedro then finds that he knows the fugitive and lets the fugitive escape, before running into Catana again.

Pedro eventually accompanies Catana back to the inn where she works, which is where he meets Juan Garcia (Lee J. Cobb). Garcia has been to the New World, and claims that there's all sorts of gold and other fortune to anybody who is brave enough to go there and make his fortune for himself. Sounds nice, but Pedro has parents and a kid sister he loves, as well as a girlfriend named Luisa. But, this being 1518, all of this is foreshadowing. The slave was owned by Diego de Silva (John Sutton), who is also the head of the local branch of the Spanish Inquisition. (You didn't expect that, did you?) Diego shows up at the Vargas residence, and basically gets in a heated debate with Dad over the Inquisition, which Dad thinks is iniquitous. Diego gets his revenge by having the entire Vargas family arrested, which results in the daughter being tortured to death.

Ah, but Pedro has friends, and they're able to affect the family's escape. One of those friends is Catana, who immediately started lusting after Pedro from the moment she saw him. To get help for the Vargas family, though, she had to betroth herself to the man helping them. So she tries to figure out a way to avoid going with that man, and escaping with the Vargas family. However, that escape involves Pedro getting split up from his parents. To keep making his escape, he has to go on an expedition to the New World with Hernando Cortez (Cesar Romero). Mind you, we're almost an hour into the movie by the time all this has happened.

Cortez leads the expedition by setting off from Cuba, which is already an established Spanish province, although Havana here looks more like the sets the studios would use for Mexico. Cortez finds rcches in Mexico, but he's been having a dispute with the colonial governor of Cuba, some of the men in the expedition are on the governor's side, so Cortez has to burn all the ships and keep everybody in Mexico. Meanwhile, Catana is still lusting after Pedro, who does finally profess his love for her. Help eventually does come in the form of an armada, but who should be on that armada? Why, none other than de Silva, looking to bring the Inquisition to the New World!

Captain From Castile is an interesting idea, but it's overly long -- at 140 minutes, the studio could probably have come up with a tighter script and chopped a good half hour off the running time. The othe rbig problem is that the movie seems overly melodramatic, veering from one crisis for Pedro to another. The guy cheats death something like half a dozen times. Sure, one of them is a duel, but on three or four occasions he's literally on his deathbed. And then there's the casting. Lee J. Cobb as a Spaniard searching for his fortune in the New World? Boy does he try, but he sticks out like a sore thumb in all his scenes. And then there's the priest on Cortez' mission. It's Thomas Gomez, who was good in a bunch of supporting roles. Here, though, he's got a terrible wig that distracts from his performance.

The bright side of the movie is the scenery. The Spanish scenes are all very likely done wherever the studios did their westerns back before John Ford went off to Monument Valley. But the film helpfully tells us between the opening credits and the first scenes that they had the assistance of the Mexican government in filming Mexican scenes on location in authentic locations. I'm not certain just how authentic those locations are in actually being from Cortez' life and conquering missions, but they're very nice to look at. Being filmed in Technicolor really helps, too.

Overally, I'd recommend Captain From Castile for its entertainment value if it clocked in under two hours. I say that even with the "will he cheat death" melodrama. But as it is, being 140 minutes, you should be forewarned that it's going to be a bit of a slog.

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